A holiday dream come true: starting off as a part-time wine importer

Lying back in a chair on the beach. Or in the evening sun on a foreign terrace. Taking a break from everyday life creates space in your head. Not surprisingly, many people come up with ideas for their own business while on holiday. Erik Hobé made it his business. Part-time, that is. Alongside his regular job.

Erik Hobé (43) had been walking around with the idea of his own business for years. After an inspiring holiday, he took the jump in 2019. Since then, he has been importing various wines with his Wine to Serve. "My hope is eventually to work one day a week less in salaried employment and be busy with my own business," he says.

As a young twenty-something, Hobé tasted his first special wine from another enthusiast. I just started with JP Chenet and Lambrusco, but then discovered there was much more to choose from. Soon he had boxes of his own coming from France and not much later a new holiday tradition was born. "My interest grew. On holidays, I started visiting winemakers. Slowly, I even took them into account when choosing my destination. Like: now if we go there, we can also visit that winemaker."

Fine wine

In the summer of 2019, Hobé visited yet another winery in Sardinia. Again, he samples yet another glorious wine. “It was the last push I needed. After that wine, I finally took the plunge. I looked up which of the newly discovered wines were not yet available in the Netherlands.” Another importer had already found the Sardinian wine, but various German wines that Hobé had been buying for a while did not yet have an official importer. “I thought it would be an easy place to start because it was close to home and easy to reach by car.”

Wine cellar in Trier: first a taste before buying.

In the autumn of 2019, Hobé took things to the next level, reading up on excise rules and registering his company Wine to Serve with KVK. Since then, he has been making about 6 trips to Trier every year, loading his car with over 40 boxes of fine wine on the way back.

“I chose to sell wines to the hospitality industry rather than to consumers. I did not fancy starting an online shop and boxing up and shipping wines every day after work. I have a full-time job as a logistics account manager at Friesland Campina and wanted to run my business on the side.First to see whether I enjoyed it and whether it would get off the ground.”

New customers

Hobé still loves what he does, but running your own business is not that easy. Although he had hoped that his wine business would allow him to spend less time working for the ‘the boss’ this year, there is still some work to be done. “My wine earnings cover a few good restaurants a year, but I can not afford to scale back my other job yet.” At the moment, importing wine is still a hobby for Hobé. One that turns a profit.

The Corona pandemic was a major setback, with many potential customers being forced to shut their restaurants and bars for a long time. “I started emailing, calling and visiting restaurants in the autumn of 2019, just after they had finalised their menus for the rest of the year. Most of them told me to come back next year, which I did. Just when there was some interest and I was tentatively getting a foot in the door here and there, Corona arrived."

Despite this rough start, Hobé did not give up. Instead, he tapped into a new market with a moderate degree of success. “I started selling to specialty stores and you can now find my wines in various delicatessens, spirits shops, butchers, and fishmongers. I have also found a few customers who buy my wines as promotional gifts, which gets me a good bit of business all year long with a clear peak around the holidays.”

Erik Hobé

Owner Wine to Serve

Erik Hobé works full-time and is also a wine importer. Growth is both a desire and a dilemma: "I cannot free up 2 or 3 days every week to spend on wine. And at the same time, I have a better chance of growth if I invest more time in Wine to Serve."

  • Wine importer
  • 2019
  • Tiel
I am not always commercial and only do what I believe in

Hospitality industry

Many of his fellow importers have warned Hobé that restaurant owners are a notoriously difficult demographic. “And I have realised that there is some truth to that”, Hobé admits. “They either want to stay loyal to their current supplier or worry that they have too many suppliers as is. Others will agree to put your wine on the menu on a one-off basis before freezing you for 6 weeks when the next menu rolls around. Occasionally, I have left behind a bottle or two and called back countless times, only to be told: ‘Yeah we loved the wine, but we bought it elsewhere.’ That can be frustrating, to say the least.”

Despite the bumps in his road, Hobé is committed to serving the hospitality industry. Specifically, he targets upscale, serious restaurants just below the Michelin star level. “My target audience does not have a sommelier, but they do all have an interesting wine list. These are the restaurant owners I love working with because I get to talk about wine and food pairings. I am passionate about wine and I am not always that commercially minded, so I just tend to do what feels right. I do not sell everyday house reds: I sell the bottles that stand out for me. I always look into what types of wine and price ranges are in demand, of course, but I always make my own choices.”


In addition to his ‘own wines’, Hobé also carries bottles from other small importers. “Just to round out my product range with Champagne, wines from the south of France, Italian wines, and dessert wines. For a while, Hobé even had plans to import Argentinian wines, until ties with the producer broke down prematurely. “We were both eager to get something going. I met the producer while I was on holiday in Argentina and got him to send me three boxes on a trial basis. After that, he suddenly vanished from the radar altogether.” Fortunately, Hobé can see the silver lining: “In retrospect, no harm was done. I did not have a good plan in place yet, container prices went through the roof, and I would have had to take a major risk. After all, you do not have a container cross the ocean for just 10 boxes.”

“I am planning to attend a wine fair in Düsseldorf next year to see whether I can team up with interesting small wineries. I have found that selling exclusive wines puts me in a stronger position because it means that potential customers cannot go looking for a better deal elsewhere.”

'Do not forget your salary'

In and just after the summer, the KVK Advice team notices that Dutch people abroad are getting ideas. They ask questions about importing products they have seen or tasted while on holiday. "Olive oil and wine are telling examples," knows entrepreneurial adviser Jacob van der Vis. "But also clothes, bags, rugs. Often somewhat artisanal products."

We hear good plans come along, but also many people who have no idea about the opportunities and risks. "Sometimes my job is to be very critical. A nice idea is usually not enough. Someone can be very enthusiastic but has not thought about transport, insurance (in Dutch) or import duties. You have to recover all those costs. And what is often forgotten: your own salary. Maybe you can take it for granted the first year you do not earn anything, but what do you do if that is still the case after 3 years? At the end of the day, you do want to earn from it, right?"

Risks are also often underestimated. "Electronics have to be safe. Food should not make your customers sick. If you bring a product from outside the EEA onto the European market, you are responsible and liable for any damage," Van der Vis explains.

There are also success stories. People who already have a business, for example, sometimes discover new opportunities abroad. "But also start-ups that have been thinking about their plan for a bit longer. They realise that not everyone likes the same products. And that wine tastes different without the Spanish sun and paella. They start a bit smaller and build it up slowly."

This is also the advice Van der Vis often gives to people who spontaneously want to start a business. "Try it first. Do not quit your day job yet. Ask for samples or order some small quantities. See if there is demand and if you are enjoying it."

Do you want to know if your plan is likely to succeed? And what steps you still need to take for a successful start? Contact the KVK Advice team: 088 585 22 22.